UMass Lowell looking to climb Hockey East standings with ‘a lot of hockey to come’

Nick Marin (UML - 23) celebrates his second goal of the game with Ryan Lohin (UML - 18) and Mattias Göransson (UML - 26). (2017 Melissa Wade)
Nick Marin, Ryan Lohin and Mattias Göransson celebrate a recent goal for UMass Lowell (photo: Melissa Wade).

For the past few years, UMass Lowell has led Hockey East in attendance, often cracking the top 10 in the nation in number of fans in the seats per game.

The Tsongas Center became a true advantage to the team.

This year, though, the club has played its best hockey away from home, amassing a 7-3-0 mark, which includes a 2-1 upset of No. 2 Massachusetts last Friday night in Amherst.

For UML coach Norm Bazin, he wishes there was an easy explanation.

“I can’t explain it, to be honest with you,” said Bazin, whose River Hawks are just are just 2-5-1 inside the friendly confines of Tsongas. “I challenged the guys to be the same on the road as they are at home, and the tables got turned. I can’t explain it; sometimes it just ends up that way.”

To this point in the season, the home/road diatribe is seemingly consistent with the team’s overall success. For Lowell it has been a season of being consistently inconsistent.

There hasn’t been a difficult stretch, per se. Lowell twice has lost back-to-back games, but never left a two-game weekend without getting at least a point in conference play. On the other side, though, there hasn’t been any sort of streak of success. Two wins is the longest unbeaten streak, which happened twice.

That’s something Bazin and his club hope to change in the second half. This weekend, the club will travel to Colgate, a team that struggled much of the year but put forward two impressive wins last weekend against Quinnipiac and Princeton. This closes the non-league slate for the River Hawks, providing the last chance to gain out-of-conference wins to help the River Hawks in the PairWise.

“If you sweep a weekend in college hockey right now, that’s a big deal,” said Bazin of Colgate’s most recent results. “I know they’re hot. To beat Quinnipiac on the road and Princeton on the road, that’s no small feat. I know they’re going to be good and I know they’re going to be good at home.”

Bazin’s team, though, is comprised of a number of components to worthy of discussion.

Leading the way might be junior defenseman Mattias Goransson. Defensive in style, Goransson has become an offensive piece of late, registering six of his eight points over the last 10 games. He’s present on the team’s power play and has a solid enough skating ability to assist in the offensive rush.

“I don’t think [offense] is [Goransson’s] only strength,” said Bazin. “I think the better he defends, the better he is offensively. When he plays a really strong defensive game, I feel that he’s at his best offensively.

“I really think his strength is to be a really good defensive defenseman who can contribute on the offense.”

Staying on the back end, goaltending has been interesting this year for Lowell. Bazin has two proven goaltenders. Tyler Wall led the team to a Hockey East title and within a goal of the Frozen Four two seasons ago. Last year, when Wall struggled a bit, Christoffer Hernberg led the team and earned his club’s MVP honors.

This season, Wall’s numbers have been slightly better, but Hernberg has posted the better record.

Having to decide night in and night out on which goalie is right can be a luxury, while also a difficult decision, for any coach.

“Both goalies are different,” said Bazin. “Tyler is a bigger body and he exhibits a little more poise. Christoffer is probably a little more dynamic and battles.

“Both of them can give you some really good games. It’s going to be a matter of who wants to grab the top spot here.”

Which brings up an interesting point, especially for Bazin.

Over his coaching career with the River Hawks, while not exclusive, for the most part Bazin has tried to ride one goaltender in the stretch of a season. But that’s not a formula set in stone.

“We’ve had a number of different situations [with goaltenders],” said Bazin. “I think competition is good for every position. Goaltending is certainly no exception in my mind.”

After this weekend, Lowell will return to league play exclusively until the end. Currently, the River Hawks sit alone in sixth place, but are just two points out of the final home-ice spot in the playoffs and, at the same time, are three points behind leaders Boston College and UMass. The issue right now is games in hand, something that will be made up this weekend as the River Hawks are the only Hockey East team not playing league games.

For Bazin, he’s hoping his team has the second-half push to climb the league standings.

“UMass and BC have put themselves in a top category,” said Bazin. “But I think [things are open]. On any given night, any team can beat anybody and college hockey seems to be playing out that way.

“From my standpoint, I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey. There’s a lot of hockey to come and I hope we can get to that point where we yield the best lineup and play our best possible hockey.”